Presentation, Organization, Communication 1– Elements: Line

To me, there is little difference between art and design. If I had to separate the two, I would say art is primarily done for yourself and design done for others. I might even say design is art, just with a logo on it. However, the point of this article is not to define either term, but to show you how I build and critique both. This will be an in depth explanation to my mantra: "Good art is well designed; Good design is artfully done”. We start with the very basics, the elements of design.

The elements are the physical aspects of design, the things we can actually see. I think of design as presentation, organization, and communication with the elements being the presentation. They also are the primary identifiers in every style be it art deco, realism, vintage modernism, expressionism, etc. Almost all of the principals can be applied to each element.
1. a mark or stroke long in proportion to its breadth, made with a pen, pencil, tool, etc., on a surface:
2. something resembling a traced line, as a band of color, a seam, or a furrow: lines of stratification in rock.
Line is easiest to see in a sketch or pencil drawing, but just because there is no solid mark in a design or painting dosent mean there is no line. Line creates shape, and the separation of shapes may only be defined by color. An example is the painting below by Cyril Rolando; the clouds have no hard black line but there is an edge, a shape created by contrasting colors, and thus a line.
Line work is very important to illustrators and their line work alone can sometimes define their style. The illustration below shows thick, exaggerated lines through out the piece. They were likely drawn by hand with a marker. This style takes inspiration from both comic books and graffiti. You can also see a bit of crosshatching technique, where the artist uses lines to create an appearance of texture.
One of best line artist I know of is Joshua Smith of Hydro74 Studios. His technique is based on vector illustrations having the appearance of something that is hand drawn. The varied stroke widths and unexpected twist and turns of the lines through his work always makes for a very interesting piece. Even with the symmetrical balance and vector art, there is something very human and raw about his line work. The way he builds depth and texture with lines and shapes alone is something to be admired.
Sometimes you can get a feel for the time period a logo was designed by the line work. The Arizona Cardinals logo is a great example. The version on the left was created in 1988, the one of the right an update in 2005. The modern version features heavy, varied width strokes and much simpler curves and shapes, key identifiers of the modern sports style.
A logo favorite of mine is made entirely of lines. The New World Symphony mark was created by Michael Bierut of Pentagram, which includes the letters NWS and is inspired by both the movements of a conductors baton and the sound waves of music. Notice the separation of the abstract N and W letters by the varied line widths. More on that here:
Line is not just a direction or hard edge. It can also be a soft edge. A good example is a blurry or out of focus photo, where all the shapes have a soft edge. This works extremely well with the Contrast Principal of Design (see David Carson's work in RayGun) where the photo's soft edges and type's hard edges provide a pleasing contrast. I find that an exaggerated rounded letter like G and O are even more pleasing. I think its because it pushes the Contrast principal further; the rounded shape of the letter and the straight, sharp 90 degree corners of a page. The example below is a pure experiment in this of my own. Below that, a real world example with a round logo.